PAT ON THE BACK: Meeting (Some of) My 2022 Goals

There is no Frigate like a Book to take us Lands away . . . 

These words by Emily Dickenson were emblazoned on the bookplates my grandparents gave me when, at an early age, I declared my love for reading. I pasted them into every volume I owned and used up my stock long ago. Nowadays, I look at the hundreds of books that line my walls, upstairs and down, and I think of that phrase and how much books have taken me away – especially these days when, like so many others, I feel frozen in space. 

It was only a matter of time (although it took me long enough to get there) that I would start to write regularly about the books I read. In the meantime, I discovered the joys of film and – being a child of two working parents – TV, and then the glories of live theatre. And so I added those to my writing mix. Like all productive children (of all ages), I set goals for myself . . . and, like many of my blogging friends, when the year comes to a close, I like to examine how well I fared in my goal-setting. To be honest, when I wrote them up last December 30, I was pretty damn sure I had bitten off way more than I could chew. 

But you know what? All in all, I didn’t do too badly. The credo of Ah Sweet Mystery is “celebrating the Golden Age of Detection in books and on screen,” and – by gum! – I did just that. True, I barely scratched my TBR piles (that’s multiple plurals); in fact, the damn things have swole to bursting!  Snail-like reader that I am, the sum total of this year’s finished books matches what Kate Jackson typically reads for breakfast or a Sunday sojourn by the Puzzle Doctor to the Bodleian. Yet it’s the quality of what you read that’s important, rather than the quantity, right? 

No, really . . . right?!?

Plus, I do like to talk about films and TV and other things. And talk and talk and talk, apparently! I just discovered this little button on my WordPress account that lets me look at all sorts of stats. This year, I managed to write over 190,000 words! I was bursting with pride for, like, a minute, until Kate pointed out that this is the equivalent of two mystery novels, which would have yielded me tons more publicity and a cool $129.53 in royalties. But I didn’t get into this racket to rake in the big bucks; rather, I came to start conversations. Not sure I did that either: out of around 1,200 comments this year, I imagine about half of them were my own “Thank you for your comment” comments. 

Enough with all the math! Let’s see what your voluble friend accomplished this year.

BOOKS

When we talk about classic mysteries, we must first tackle Brad’s Big Four, my quartet of favorite authors who just happen to be four of the very best. 

Everyone who knows me understands how much I adore Agatha Christie, who is simply the greatest mystery author of all time. Turns out that I did alright by Dame Agatha this year. Besides reading three novels and one short-story collection by the lady herself, her continuing influence was felt in books for young and old, as well as several of this year’s films. (If you have Netflix, don’t miss Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery!)

Best of all, I got to talk about Christie with some of the best. Although my buddy JJ of The Invisible Event has put his Spoiler Warning podcast to (a hopefully temporary) rest, he, Moira “Clothes in Books” Redmond and I chatted about three of my favorite Christie novels: After the Funeral, Five Little Pigs and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead. After that I had the great pleasure of being a guest on All About Agatha, where fellow Christie scholar/fanboy Kemper Donovan invited me to talk about the new story collection Marple. (Get over yourselves, purists, the collection is great.) For me, sitting down with Kemper was like a reunion with a long-lost cousin; we even kept finishing each other’s sentences. Utter joy!

Last but not least, I finally got back into the director’s chair and helmed a production of Murder on the Nile for a local theatre company. I worked with a delightful company of players and had the best fun sitting in the back of the audience listening to people try and figure out whodunnit! And that’s what classic mysteries are all about!

Last year I promised to start my Re-Branding project and take another look at all the mysteries written by the delightful Christianna Brand. I’m happy to say that I didn’t do half badly, since I managed to read and discuss her first five crime novels. Again, much joy was had by having Death of Jezebel get republished, which led to my Book Club selecting it for one of our reads. Another great discussion!

Next comes John Dickson Carr: at the rate I’m getting through my Carter Dickson Celebration, I should wrap things up around 2047. But the single read there – The Reader Is Warned – proved fascinating. That output was at least doubled when I finally re-read my childhood favorite Gideon Fell novel, The Crooked Hinge, which has taken a hit from Carr fans in recent years. As it turns out, I liked it even more, especially because I got to match wits with my buddies Flex and Herds on their podcast, Death of the Reader. As I keep telling you, these sorts of chats are the very best part of doing what we do!

I got only a single read of Ellery Queen, thanks to this year’s final publication by Crippen & Landru. However, I started the year with a deep dive into the 1980s Ellery Queen TV series, and that was a total blast. Hopefully, it prompted more than one reader to look that series up; it’s totally worth it.

My Book Club saw to it that I tackled other classic authors. I’m afraid I did not fare well with E.C.R. Lorac, which is why you saw no review here for Fell Murder. In addition, my second Gwen Bristow was a letdown, and we definitely chose the wrong Dorothy L. Sayers to read. But I had a blast with Anthony Berkeley, Edmund Crispin, John Russell Fearn, Baynard Kendrick, and Seishi Yokomizo. My two runner-ups for BEST READ OF 2022 come from this list: Berkeley’s Jumping Jenny and Crispin’s Swan Song

The author I promised last year to tackle more of this year was Erle Stanley Gardner. In addition to two classic Perry Mason adventures, I read the first two books in the series featuring D.A. Doug Selby, Gardner’s version of a Frank Capra movie, and I can’t wait to see what happens next (particularly since the third book is supposed to be one of the best.) Best of all, however, is that I finally dipped my toe into the novels Gardner wrote under the nom de plume A.A. Fair that feature P.I. Bertha Cool and her new employee, the oddly sexy string bean, Donald Lam. My Best Read this year was The Bigger They Come, the debut of this marvelously funny team. I look forward to seeing what future jams Donald gets himself into!

A favorite read
Another favorite read
My favorite read of the year!

As far as modern authors in the classic vein go, there was new stuff by James Scott Byrnside, Paul Halter, Janice Hallett, Anthony Horowitz, and Tom Mead. Most exciting, there was the debut by this guy named Jim Noy, who happens to be my best blogging buddy ever! The Red Death Murders featured new and baffling ways to kill people without anybody named Brad being able to figure out how it was done! It’s available on Amazon, and I highly recommend it. 

My sojourn into Krimes for Kids was equally rewarding: there were three more Adventures on Trains that may very well be – sob! – the last we see of Harrison Beck, but I did manage to find a promising new series by Marthe Jocelyn, featuring a pair of sleuths in 1902 Torquay that may remind you of someone!

FILMS AND TV

I managed to review/discuss twenty-three crime films this year, largely thanks to a wonderful class I took from my friend Elliot Lavine on 1950’s film noir. A lot of this late noir is cheap and tawdry (these are good things) and very, very dark, and I reserve many squirmy feelings for Kiss Me, Deadly, much love for In a Lonely Place, and a newfound appreciation for The Killing. I also discovered a new favorite podcast, Screen Drafts, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The choices they make may sometimes infuriate you in the best of ways, but just listening to good friends talk so enthusiastically about the movies took me out of myself during some trying times. (Sergio and Nick, I’m still up for us to do our own Hitchcock draft – these guys are never gonna get to the Master of Suspense!)

On the TV front, I thoroughly enjoyed diving back into The Adventures of Ellery Queen. Then, based on my pal Sergio’s recommendation, I did a deep dive into Elementary, the American attempt to modernize the Sherlock Holmes saga. I skipped a review of the second season of Only Murders in the Building, where the mystery was pretty weak, but the trio of Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez were still delightful. I found two more comic mystery series, this time on Netflix (the entertaining Murderville and the disappointing The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window) and one deeply moody one (Three Pines on Amazon Prime, which showcased both Louise Penny’s strengths and weaknesses as a mystery author.)

So, all in all, it wasn’t a bad year. Some great reads, some great viewings, and, best of all, some great chats!

On Saturday: My Resolutions for 2023. Come see how deeply I step into it this time!

9 thoughts on “PAT ON THE BACK: Meeting (Some of) My 2022 Goals

  1. Well done Brad. I continue to be impressed with the insights you bring whether to old films, little known GAD novels, detective television shows. I look forward to your posts next year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are 23 British films and 30 American films. I don’t know the silents well enough – except for one – to comment on them; nor do I really want to watch them again. I have a feeling that if we included them, however, there would be that one that could make the draft.

    If we took those fifty-three films and did a mega-draft of the top 20 or 21. I say 21 to give us each 7, but if we do 20 we can do something like what Clay does and add those “blessings” that vary from position to position. (Although it would be great to have a fourth person to do a mega-draft with because I know how to split those up.)

    Another possibility would be to do a top 7 or 11 of the British films and then return to do a mini-mega top 13 of the American films. As you say, it could get pretty f&#%@g cutthroat!!! And, oh, so much fun!!

    Like

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